Category Archives: Happiness

Are you or your spouse being taken for granted? Check out these obstacles and keys to gratitude.

file8571279077726
Do you feel taken for granted, at least some of the time? Who appreciates that you get up early to make lunches or do laundry? Who appreciates how hard you work to provide for the family? Who appreciates the dinners, help with homework, paying the bills, doing the chores and the countless things you do each day? Or the fact that you haven’t given up and run off to find an easier life?

Maybe no one.

That’s because we mostly take for granted the good stuff we have. I don’t wake up and give thanks for the fact that my husband didn’t have an affair, or that my kids didn’t throw up in the night, or that my house didn’t burn down. I don’t give thanks that my children’s are not starving or suffering from a debilitating illness. By default, we seem to focus on the negative instead of the positive, to dwell on our problems and concerns. Sure, we often give thanks for our food and our health in a generic sense, but that’s different from noticing how richly we are blessed in all the ways we take for granted.

It stands out when you say thank you to your spouse for the usual things they do, because we are so used to not being thanked.

Most religions have gratitude at their core. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says “In everything, give thanks…” We all seem to know the power of giving thanks, and research has demonstrated gratitude is a key element of happiness. Yet, we still grumble more often than not. Why?

“Given its magnetic appeal, it is a wonder that gratitude might be rejected. Yet it is. If we fail to use it, by default we choose ingratitude,” says Psychology Professor Robert Emmons, PhD, in an essay which appeared in Big Questions Online and Greater Good Science Center. He explains that our provision becomes so commonplace that it is easily accepted. “We believe the universe owes us a living.”

At this morning’s church service, I heard again the story of the 10 lepers whom Jesus healed, and only one returned to him to give thanks. Think about the people you know, and you may agree that about 90 percent of of people complain more often than they express gratitude. I’m often guilty of focusing on a problem or crisis, then when it is solved or passes, I rarely think of it again. We are on to the next thing, with little more than a “thanks” or “whew, I’m glad that’s over.”

If you’re with me so far, hang in there for the “ouch” factor and the happy conclusion.

What’s the obstacle to gratitude?

Research shows ungrateful people have a high sense of self-importance, arrogance, vanity, and an unquenchable need for admiration and approval, explains Emmons. This is about a sense of entitlement that says, “Life owes me this,” and “I deserve this.” Being preoccupied with ourselves makes us feel we are owed what we have, or that we have earned it, and it makes us forget the giver of these gifts.

While only one percent of the population meets the criteria for narcissistic disorder, these self-serving characteristics are found in all individuals to varying degrees. It starts in childhood as all children believe the world revolves around them, and we hopefully evolve to understand the importance of other perspectives and needs.

A focus on the self is an obstacle toward being thankful.

Humility Paves the Way

“Humility is a key to gratitude because living humbly is the truest approach to life. Humble people are grounded in the truth that they need others,” says Emmons. “The humble person says that life is a gift to be grateful for, not a right to be claimed.”

The thing is, humility seems to go against everything we are taught will make us successful in life, to take charge, to take credit, to demand the best the world has to offer. The Paradox of Giving, in which the more we give, the more we receive, is just like the Paradox of Gratitude, in which the more you give thanks, the more blessed you will feel. (OK, I made that up, but that’s what I think.)

“Humility is profoundly countercultural. It does not come easily or naturally,” says Emmons, yet “reigning in entitlement and embracing gratitude and humility is spiritually and psychologically liberating. Gratitude is the recognition that life owes me nothing and all the good I have is a gift.”

The truth is I didn’t do anything to deserve my life, my husband, my kids, my job, my parents, my friends—any more than a person suffering in the Philippines deserved to experience a typhoon.

As we approach Thanksgiving in the U.S., let’s shift our focus away from ourselves and toward humility and gratitude for others and toward our Creator. Tell your spouse and all those who are special to you all the ways in which you appreciate them.

Don’t fall back to the default setting of ingratitude. When you think of complaining, try to find five people or things to be thankful for. Please share in the comments three things you are grateful for today!

For the full essay as well as a short video from Robert Emmons, PhD, explaining the following four benefits of gratitude, check out this page.
1. Gratitude allows us to celebrate the present.
2. Gratitude blocks toxic emotions, such as envy, resentment, regret and depression–because they are incompatible with gratitude.
3. Grateful people are more stress-resilient.
4. Gratitude strengthens social ties and self-worth.

Related articles:
4 Proven Secrets to Long Marriage Part III: Express Gratitude
Express Thankfulness to Your Spouse Today
Can Your Mind Change Your World?
Focusing on What’s Missing in Life Can Cause You to Miss What’s There

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

Adoring Strangers Remind Us to be Adoring Spouses


“We are probably missing so much about the people around us,” says one subject of a photographer’s project in a touching UpWorthy video. The project, called “Touching Strangers” involved a photographer picking out two or three strangers on the street and posing them like adoring family members.

The photos are quite beautiful, often with stark contrasts, and in most you would never know the people are not close in real life. Check out the short video to see for yourself.

The amazing thing is that the project could have been an experiment to determine how people would feel about one another after posing in that way. Many felt the physical touching and gazing at each other broke down barriers, provided comfort, made them care about the other person (whom they didn’t know at all), and gave them pleasant, lovely feelings. It’s “humanity as it could be” according to the announcer.

If physical closeness and looking into one another’s eyes can create this much caring and feeling in total strangers, what can it do for real family members? A lot. Physical touch is known to release the bonding hormone oxytocin. Hugging, holding, gazing—these actions make you feel close and help you to really see the other person deep down.

In our busy days, it’s important to create these moments in our own homes. That means turning off distractions like electronics and carving out a bit of time and space for real connection. Don’t forget to actually touch, snuggle, kiss, hug, and soak in those pleasant feelings.

Does this mean pretend to be close and loving? No, it means we don’t always feel affectionate and loving, particularly after a long day of challenges. But our actions (demonstrating love and closeness) can lead our heart to where it wants to be.

If it works for perfect strangers, it can work to inspire marriages, too.

For more details on how to incorporate more touch in your relationship, check out Little Touches Make Big Impact on Relationships.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

What is the Happiest Year of Your Marriage?

DSC06526 I sincerely hope that the happiest year of your marriage is THIS year, but a recent British survey* of 2,000 married people suggests that year three was the happiest year in their marriage.

In the study, the first year of marriage followed year three as the next happiest, with the couple basking in the newlywed glow, while year two was spent getting to know one another better. The study suggests year three marks the success of learning to deal with one another’s imperfections, as well as some occasional doubts. By year three, discussions of having children often occur, helping to solidify the relationship.

What was the toughest year in their marriage? According to the study, the fifth year was the most difficult due to feelings of exhaustion, financial worries, stress of caring for children, and conflict over division of work/chores.

The good news is that the couples who continued to work on the marriage found year seven to be the point at which, when obstacles are overcome—such as unbalanced sex drives, different hobbies or social preferences—it paves the way for a long-term and happy marriage. Half of respondents say their wedding day was the happiest day of their life.

All that being said, the data should not be seen as exactly relating to every marriage, but rather a trend. Frequently, it appears, once we settle into marriage and get to know one another, marriage can be blissfully happy (yay!). Then, when differing expectations, family demands and workloads collide with the romantic side of the relationship, it takes some effort to overcome problems and remain committed. Marriage has ups and downs, and often after going through troubled times or crises, couples gain a stronger bond.

For couples who decide they “Married the Wrong Person” and move on to someone new, they may become blissfully happy for another very brief period, but they will end up in the same place a few years down the road with a new person. However, for the majority of couples who get past this stage, marriage can become a long and happy union.

Whatever stage you are in, work to stick together. We may blame our spouse for stress that is external to the relationship. Instead of thinking your spouse has changed, realize your situation may be very different from the days of dating. Work to keep communication open and positive.

So, what was your happiest year of marriage, and what was your toughest period to get through?

*The study was commissioned by Slater & Gordon, a UK-based law firm.
Photo courtesy of morguefile.com.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

How Stress Can Help Your Marriage

stress morguefile While it was not a stress-free summer for my marriage, it wasn’t a bad time either. I’ve seen several reports that indicate some stress can actually be good for us and for our marriages, and I have to say I agree in some respects.

In my case, the stressors were outside the marriage, and I think that makes a big difference in staying positive. My husband was in training in another city for several months, meaning date nights were out of the question, and even 15-minute phone calls a day were usually not available. Instead, the kids and I made the best with one or two day visits, or longer when that was possible. I think we viewed it more of a family challenge to handle the circumstances in the best way we could, knowing it would be best for the family in the long run.
Now, three months is much different than an 18-month deployment by a soldier. And unfortunately, a recent RAND Corp. study showed long and frequent deployments hurt military marriages, often leaving them feeling disillusioned. The longer the deployment, the greater the risk of divorce, it said. Often, it had to do with unmet expectations. “Couples who married before 9/11 just didn’t expect that deployments were going to be amped up,” said the study author. Read the study details here. Thankfully, resources are available to help support military marriages, as well as help from family and friends.

Other stressful events that can impact marriages may have to do with traumatic life-events, which 75 percent of us face at one time in our lives. In fact, in a given year, 20 percent of people are likely to experience some kind of a trauma in their life, according to The Greater Good Science Company. So, the odds are not in favor us living free of pain and suffering.

How can we either insulate our marriage from the negative effects of stress, or somehow extract some positive from the experience?

Be a Team
As much as I hate sports analogies, teaming up with your spouse against the problems you face is critical. None of us wants to feel alone, particularly when things are difficult. We went to be heard and have our feelings validated. We want to be encouraged and cheered on. During my husband’s stressful training, we sent him a barrage of encouraging cards and notes to let him know we were behind him. If financial stress is a problem, the couple must work together to attack it bit by bit. “We will get through this together,” is the message that is expressed, whether “this” means a serious illness, a loss of a loved one, a robbery, a job loss, etc.

One couple I interviewed who grew close after being very argumentative early in their marriage describe the shift as moving from opposite sides of the tennis net to playing side by side against an opponent. We as married people have to feel like our spouse is on our side in life.

Even if you can’t physically be together, you can feel like you’re a team, each playing an important family role, and each respected and valued.

Look for Growth Opportunities
“Our success and happiness depend on our ability not just to cope with (stress) but to actually grow because of it,” says Christine Carter from The Greater Good. She explains that the stress we experience as a result of adversity—and how we respond to that stress—tends to predict how much we will benefit from it. The individuals who benefit and grow the most are NOT the ones who are able to avoid the stress. Those who grow the most are the ones who may be shaken up, and then grow as a result.

In my experience, I would agree that people I have known who have overcome cancer or faced dire circumstances often have a unique perspective and wisdom about what is truly important.

And many of the couples I interviewed for First Kiss to Lasting Bliss experienced a great amount of adversity but grew together as a result. That is not to say your spouse must be your only support system in times of stress and need—certainly not. Friends, family, pastors, doctors, neighbors and others in your life often want to help when you are facing a tough time, and they can be part of the learning and growth process when we are ready to make those advances.

It kind of stinks that it takes tough times to truly grow and appreciate the good times, but isn’t that truly the case?

If day-to-day stress is affecting your marriage due to over-scheduling, family conflict, household disorganization, etc., then take action to address the issues. This kind of stress will deplete health reserves and will rarely offer growth opportunities.

What has caused the most growth in your marriage?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Is Your Family Choosing Money Over Time?

traffic morguefileFollowing up on the last post suggesting we “underachieve” so that we have time to achieve with our family, you might ask whether not putting most of your energies into career and financial achievement might end up reducing your happiness in the long run. In other words, won’t you be less happy with less money and/or career advancement?

It seems justifiable that we need to work enough to provide a comfortable home and to care for our family. However, many of us become competitive and want to be “the best” and to earn as much as our talent and opportunities will allow. We also decide as a family that we “need” more and more, requiring more money to satisfy these demands. Spending more time working usually means less time for your marriage and family. And if those bonds are strained, the stress will certainly mean less happiness for you.

A new study reported in CNN called “Happy Money: The Science of Smarter Spending” by Elizabeth Dunn and Michael Norton finds that we often get so much in the habit of working and earning that we don’t stop to enjoy the fruits of our labor. Even wealthy people spend too much time overworking and doing things they don’t enjoy, such as driving long commutes to work. Researchers say we should use some of that money to “buy happier time.”

While we’re at it, we should ask ourselves before spending money how the purchase will affect our time. For example, buying a nicer car may seem like a great reward, but not if you have to work more hours to pay for it. Drivers get no more pleasure from commuting in an expensive car than in a cheap one. And the average American spends two hours a day just working to afford his car.

Another bad investment is an improved home entertainment system, according to researchers, who say watching TV is a clear happiness drain. On the other hand, they say investing in a dog pays off in happiness dividends, encouraging you to take daily walks and socialize with other dog owners.

I can relate to the research. Before starting my own business in 1998, I put in long hours at work, only to feel I could never get ahead of the work load. I think many Americans feel they don’t have a choice but to participate in this rat race, particularly with the weak economy.

So a focus on smarter spending of time and money on things that will improve your happiness and your family’s happiness is key. Our family enjoys time in nature, trips to the library and cooking at home. My husband has always been one to make time to enjoy life and encourages as much time together as a family as possible. If you think about your happiest memories, they probably weren’t the most expensive days of your life.

Think about ways you can spend enjoyable time with your spouse, friends, and family without spending a lot of money. Brainstorm things you’d like to do together this summer and keep the list handy. You might also want to keep a list of books or movies you’d like to enjoy together.

Do you feel like this is a difficult tradeoff for your family? Do you and your spouse agree on how to spend time and money? Feel free to share any tips you have.

For newer readers here, I’ve written lots of research articles on happiness. If you’re interested in learning more about creating a happier life and happier marriage, search the archives.

I hope you have an enjoyable Memorial Day weekend. Take time with friends and family to enjoy life and give thanks to the service men and women who helped to make our freedoms possible.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

Don’t be Afraid to Underachieve in Life to Better Achieve in Your Family Life: Lessons from a former Indpls Colt

smith-hunter-01Last week, I attended a talk in Indianapolis given by former NFL punter Hunter Smith and his wife, Jen. One of his biggest messages was this headline. The former Colt advises those who want to be good spouses and parents to not be afraid to underachieve by the world’s standards, in order to make the time to succeed in your family life.

“I’m never going to be all I could be, and I don’t want to be. In America that’s counter-cultural,” says the former Indianapolis Colt. “Achieve in your marriage and with your children, and not in what the world expects of you.”

Other pieces of advice from their talk at Better Together included:

  1. Keep good company—trusted friends who will help keep you from making wrong decisions.
  2. Be who you say you are—live your life well.
  3. Understand that men have the tendency to be lustful and passive, while women have the tendency to be controlling. As men, don’t abdicate leadership in the home.
  4. Be willing to show your true self to your spouse.
  5. Be willing to share each of your needs honestly with one another.
  6. Place your spouse’s needs above yours. If you both practice giving, you will both receive more.

Hunter and Jen have four children, and they aren’t afraid to “miss opportunities” for their kids to develop in sports or other areas. Instead, they focus on the priorities of their family and their faith life.

Hunter shared openly about life in the NFL both with the Colts and with the Washington Redskins. He also expressed how much impact one person can have, using the example of Tony Dungy changing the culture of the Indianapolis Colts team by calling all the players to be authentic men full of strong character.

You can read here in an Indianapolis Star article about how Hunter calls the life of NFL athletes “tragic” with false images and frequent divorces and bankruptcy following the end of their football career. Hunter took a different path and retired to follow his interest in music and singing. His wife shares his love of singing.

Is his advice to underachieve difficult to hear, especially from someone who at one time made a multi-million dollar annual salary and who has a Super Bowl ring? My opinion is that he seems genuinely interested in using his platform to share the lessons he has learned. What are your thoughts on the other suggestions?

My next post will be about how earning more money does not usually make us happier. Instead, working more takes time away from activities that would probably give us more happiness.

Photo credit: Indianolis Colts

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.

The Science of Marital Longevity—Will Your Marriage Succeed?

happy couple morguefileWhile commitment may be the key to staying together in marriage, science has its own explanations. The latest Clark University Poll of Emerging Adults found that 86 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds surveyed said they expected their marriages to last a lifetime. (The balance were presumed to be unlikely to marry.) Yet, statistically, various factors make individuals far more or less likely to stay married.

The American Psychological Association recently compiled factors that are most likely to make love last. I don’t find it helpful to share which races are more likely to divorce, since that is not something we can change. However, we can do a lot to help or hurt our marital success, according to researchers. Here’s a sampling:

  • According to NCHS data, women with at least a bachelor’s degree have a 78 percent shot that their marriages will last 20 years, compared with 41 percent chance among women with a high school diploma. Did you know those with a college degree have a nearly 80 percent chance of success? I guess my Mom was right to encourage me to finish college before considering marriage.
  • Couples whose first child is born after the wedding have a greater likelihood of staying together, while couples who marry in their teens have a lower chance of staying together.
  • Lack of assets cause marital stress for newlyweds, according to the National Marriage Project. Couples with no assets are 70 percent more likely to divorce within three years than couples with $10,000 or more in assets. Consider this fact if you’re about to go into debt over an expensive wedding celebration.
  • Stress can be a major contributor to divorce. In a 2012 study by the University of Texas, researchers found that when one spouse had a stressful day (traffic, difficulties at work, or whatever), they reported more negative behaviors toward their spouse as well as less satisfaction with their relationship. Please keep this in mind if you are going through a stressful time or a major transition, as stress definitely affects how you evaluate your relationships. “Psychologists posit that the energy dedicated toward handling stressful events detracts from the energy needed to maintain a good relationship,” according to the Journal of Family Psychology. Take efforts to reduce or better manage your stress.
  • A strong social support can buffer against the type of chronic stress than can be toxic to a relationship. Examples of a strong social support include military support, church support, family support, neighbor and friends who are supportive. If you don’t have a good support network, help develop one. Social connections are known to help you live longer and healthier as well as to provide marriage and family support.
  • Doing small things often to make your spouse feel special and loved is very predictive of staying together, preventing divorce, and being happy, according to the Early Years Marriage Project. Contrary to popular opinion, men tend to need these affirmations the most, because women frequently affirm one another with hugs or compliments, while it’s uncommon for men to receive these in public.
  • The manner in which couples deal with conflict is important. Couples that are likely to stay together “are kinder, more considerate, and soften the way they raise a complaint” according to the Gottman Institute. Another study (from UCLA) addressing conflict found that couples who as newlyweds had interacted with anger and pessimism when discussing difficult relationship issues were more likely to be divorced 10 years later.
  • Depth of communication is important. “Most couples think they’re communicating with one another, but what they’re really talking about is what I call ‘maintaining the household’ or detailing to-do lists,” says Terry Orbuch, PhD, of the University of Michigan and Oakland University. “The happiest couples also share their hopes, fears and dreams.”
  • Be a lifelong learner in marriage. You may put regular effort into improving your golf game or your home, but marriage also takes a conscious effort to maintain and improve. “If you’re a lawyer, you take continuing education. If you’re an artist, you take workshops. And somehow, there’s this belief that we don’t have to work at learning how to be a couple, it should just come naturally,” says couples therapist Nicholas Kirsch, PhD. “That, to me, is just very backwards.”

For details on these studies, visit APA.org.

In what area do you think your marriage could use attention?

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.